It’s been a hard two weeks. It’s been two weeks on a long and extremely emotional roller coaster. From disbelief to hurt to anger to annoyance to uncertainty to motivation, the outcome of the 2016 presidential election had me feeling each of these to the highest degree, none lasting more than a day but each more intense than the last. By chance, I had planned on going to Cincinnati, Ohio, the Thursday after the election. What was meant to be a lone road trip to the place I grew up ended up being my first excursion in a long time from the liberal bubble of Ann Arbor.
I grew up in Cincinnati, born and raised in a quintessential suburban neighborhood that I am thankful for every day. However, unlike myself, most of my neighbors and my classmates were from conservative families. My earliest experience with politics was during the 2004 presidential election. My staunchly liberal parents put out John Kerry signs on our front lawn, which quickly disappeared the next day. When this happened, I was sent to one of the three liberal families in my neighborhood to pick up another sign, hoping it would last longer than the previous one. Similarly, in 2008 and 2012, our Obama signs stood out in a field of McCain and Romney ones. By no means was Cincinnati as a whole on the right side of the spectrum, but the suburban and rural parts of the city were more red than they were blue.
As I grew older and formed my own left-wing beliefs, I always had an uneasy feeling when politics become the topic of conversations. In fact, I would try to avoid them, not wanting to stand out or be one of the few liberal voices in the conversation. Yet, these conversations happened, and I inevitably learned the value of understanding the other side, as many of its members were my closest friends and neighbors.
When I came to the University of Michigan, I was in heaven. As with many college campuses, the liberal energy was infectious. Living in an environment where the majority of people believed what I believed and supported many of the same causes I did was a refreshing change from feeling politically out of place in the community in which I grew up. Additionally, the fact that I was living in the Obama era naturally gave me more confidence in my liberal beliefs. It made it easier to bear the conservative majority in my Cincinnati suburb, and fully embrace the comfort of a liberal Ann Arbor. No longer did I feel like a political minority, but rather a part of the majority. No longer did I approach political conversations with apprehension but instead with excitement. I had an eagerness to talk to classmates who had similar beliefs, classmates I expected to have similar beliefs.
The four hours traveling back home were four hours of thinking to myself: how? How could America elect a completely unqualified man to the most powerful job in the world? Ironically, my drive down I-75 was a drive through Trump land, through the middle area of Ohio where Mr. Trump garnered much of his support. I passed numerous Trump signs that had not yet been taken down, from small ones I had to squint to see to huge ones that were impossible to miss. I had just left a campus where disappointment and sadness were extremely prevalent on the faces of students. Yet, the farther I got from Ann Arbor, passing Trump strongholds I had seen colored a deep red on the New York Times electoral map just days before, the results of the election became real. The towns I passed and communities I drove by radiated victory while I felt utter defeat. But I still didn’t understand why they could support a candidate like Trump. Even worse, I realized I hadn’t made the effort to.
Like so many others, I didn’t understand the outcome of this election, but what made it hurt even more was the fact that I was surrounded by people who believed as fervently as me in liberal causes. Personally, when I am surrounded by people who think like me, I tend to forget to understand why others don’t. I was so caught up in the liberal energy of Michigan that I became blinded to the idea that anyone could support Donald Trump; it simply didn’t seem possible. This election in particular has made it easy to brand those who voted for Trump as racist, sexist, uneducated and so on. Yet, this isn’t always true and is the easy way to confront a defeat. It’s easy because it isn’t making an effort to understand the other’s point of view; it is based off assumptions that create a more harmful than useful way of rationalizing. Yes, those who voted for Trump voted for a candidate who is racist and sexist and has proved it time and time again. But not all of those who voted for Trump embody the characteristics of the person they voted for. Many wanted a change from the liberal era of Barack Obama — an era we praised but others criticized.
Our campus is facing the faults of the bubble as well. With the recent student vigils and protests in light of Trump’s win, some students have condemned the recent student vigils and protests in light of Trump’s win. To some extent, I can understand this. I remember the uneasiness of being a political outlier in a community. Growing up, I would contemplate the validity of my own beliefs because many around me felt completely different. But it’s important to understand why people are feeling the way they are, and why protests are happening. The motivation behind these protests and walkouts go beyond a simple political defeat, just as Trump’s support goes beyond racist and sexist thinking.
The election burst the liberal bubble many of us had gotten too comfortable in, forcing our campus to take off the blindfold and truly realize the implications and reality of the country’s current polarization — a polarization we help perpetuate without taking it upon ourselves to understand one another would imply a conversation between many, but rather succumbing to widespread labeling and assumptions on both sides. With ongoing campus tension, conversation between students is needed more than ever. An effort to understand is something I feel has been thoroughly lost in politics and exquisitely revealed in this election. We can do better. We have to do better. For starters, I’ll refer you to a quote from Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Anu Roy-Chaudhury can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.